ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons spent 25 years playing in the Georgia Dome, and they saved their best for last.
The Falcons defeated the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta to advance to Super Bowl LI, ending their tenure in this stadium with their biggest home win in franchise history.
It will be the Falcons’ second Super Bowl appearance. The last time came in the 1998 season, when Atlanta lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Falcons dominate from the start
This was expected to be a shootout, but only one offense — Atlanta’s — delivered.
The Falcons, who have the top scoring offense in the NFL, dominated from their first possession, with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu scoring on a 2-yard shovel pass from quarterback and MVP candidate Matt Ryan. It was the eighth straight game Atlanta has scored on its opening drive.
Green Bay, meanwhile, sputtered on its first possession, as Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal.
After a 28-yard field goal by Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant to make it 10-0, the Falcons’ defense recorded its 10th consecutive game with a takeaway as cornerback Jalen Collins forced and recovered a fumble from fullback Aaron Ripkowski with 10:59 left in the second quarter.
A few minutes later, Ryan ran in from 14 yards, his first rushing touchdown since 2012, to make it 17-0.
There would be no magic from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on this day.
Backed up on their own 13 on third down late in the first half, Rodgers launched a deep ball that was intercepted by safety Ricardo Allen. Atlanta capitalized, with Julio Jones hauling in a Ryan pass for a 5-yard touchdown just before halftime.
That made it 24-0. In the Rodgers era at Green Bay, which started in 2008, it was the first time the Packers trailed by 24 or more points at halftime.
Two months ago, Green Bay getting this far didn’t seem possible. In November, the Packers, 4-6 after dropping their fourth game in a row, were in danger of missing the postseason altogether.
But that didn’t deter Rodgers.
“I feel like we can run the table, I really do,” Rodgers said a few days after that loss. “The offense is starting to click a little bit more. We just have to put together a game where we’re consistent from the first snap to the last. We’ve been getting closer to that.”
That eight-game win streak came to a halt Sunday.